Israel is planning additional withdrawals from the West Bank, following the pullout from the Gaza Strip six months ago. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, there is mixed reaction among Palestinians.
Israeli officials say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to evacuate some Jewish settlements in the West Bank unilaterally, if, as expected, he wins national elections on March 28. The settlers would be incorporated into big settlement blocs near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which would remain a part of Israel.
A senior security advisor to Mr. Olmert, Avi Dichter, said it is part of a unilateral plan to draw Israel's final borders during the next four years.
Dichter, a former security chief, told Israel Radio that, while settlers would be evacuated, the Israeli army would retain control of the territory for security reasons.
He said that Israel could not hand territory over to the Islamic militant group Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections in January. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and Dichter said there is no peace partner on the Palestinian side.
In a separate newspaper interview, Dichter said that at least 17 settlements would be evacuated in the first stage - including some considered the most militant. About 16,000 of Israel's 254,000 West Bank settlers live in those communities.
Palestinian officials in the defeated Fatah Party, which supports the peace process, rejected the plan, saying it amounts to dictation rather than negotiation. But Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, said it would welcome any Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory.